“We need to talk Harlem. Harlem is great right now…”–Marquis Devereaux
Marquis Devereaux, now the president of the Harlem Ambassador, was working in retail and hospitality when he moved to Harlem in the early 1990s after living on Manhattan’s Lower East Side since he was a young child. Devereaux admits that upon moving, he didn’t know what to expect, but, he said, “I knew this was where I was supposed to be.”
When he moved, Devereaux became the director of frontal house operations at Bayou, which was down the street from where the Red Rooster is now located. At Bayou, he said people would constantly give him business cards, and those cards became the catalyst for his constantly evolving project, a map and guidebook to what he calls “Greater Harlem,” which includes East, West and Central Harlem, starting at 96th Street and going all the way up to western parts of the Bronx. Devereaux said he felt that Harlem needed more exposure and that people in general needed a better understanding of Harlem.
The idea for this map came before Google, which just allows you to search for everything on your smartphone. Devereaux said that while working on the map, people would say things like, “Isn’t there already a map to Harlem?” He had to educate people “because they thought Harlem started at 125th Street.”
The map is intended to visually identify parts of Harlem. One side is colorful, representing the day, to help identity Harlem’s different sections. The other side, drawn in black and white, represents the nighttime, with the business icons in color to highlight the businesses that are open in the evening.
Devereaux started by compiling a map of 20 businesses but quickly decided the project needed to be much more in-depth because there was so much more to show and because Harlem itself was growing. There were “new residents, visitors and businesses.” People were realizing that they could get access to “the same quality businesses and sometimes better” in Harlem, he said.
After three and a half years, the map was done. With the help of his friend, a graphic designer from Italy named Bartolomeo Bellati, Devereaux began to compile this enhanced map. In the process, he admits that he received very little political support and that the project was done with only 10 percent of what was needed to fund it. The Harlem community, though, was insistent on having this map completed.
Since its completion in 2009 and its full distribution in 2011, the map has been sent to countries in Europe and Asia, helping draw in more tourists to the Greater Harlem area. The idea is to “build and hire locally and market globally,” said Devereaux. “Tourists are willing to come to Harlem, but they don’t know where to go.”